We uncovered amazing value-priced restaurants in every corner of Greater Boston this year. Some highlights:
MODEST RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
Strip-T's, the family-run Watertown eatery where chef Tim Maslow, ex–Momofuku Ssäm Bar, recently took the reins from his dad. His inventive, modern, often-stunning dishes include a jammy pig's head (with the appealing texture of pulled pork) on toasted baguette, roast apple salad with corned beef tongue and horseradish in beet broth, and Japanese eggplant bánh mì with crispy tofu. Run, don't walk, here.
DAVID VS. GOLIATH AWARD
Allston's tiny, humble Roast Beast, which does a humdinger of a North Shore–style roast-beef sandwich, is managing to thrive in a neighborhood where a shiny new Kelly's outlet failed.
BAD COVER, GOOD BOOK AWARD
Central Square's Thailand Café, long a purveyor of middling Thai food. Discerning diners know, however, that half the menu here is very traditional, very fine Sichuan cuisine.
La Frontera. When another intended Eastie review target unexpectedly went bust, we crossed the street to this unprepossessing storefront, and found a terrific Salvadoran menu highlighted by a ravishing bowl of sopa de mariscos.
WHAT'S THAT SOUND? AWARD
Victor's Italian Restaurant. The surprising thwack-thwack we heard at this pocket-size Saugus Italian was of veal cutlets being pounded to order — for a sub. That extraordinary care and freshness extends to the whole menu of pastas and sandwiches at this counter-service gem.
DON DRAPER AWARD FOR HIDDEN SORDID PAST
The Wholy Grain, a charming little bakery/café with fine coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and soups. Few of its South End customers know that the space used to be a private social club out of which notorious mafioso Philip "Sonny" Baiona operated for decades.
PEDESTRIAN FIND OF THE YEAR
Camie's Bakery. This Area IV Haitian bakery/café located away from major car and MBTA routes demonstrates the rewards of walking around to find good cheap eats. Gorgeous fried goat, fried-pork subs, and stewed chicken highlight a menu of high-value, hearty plates.
THE OTHER ONE PERCENT AWARD
My Thai Vegan Café, for serving delicious Thai cuisine suitable for the one in 100 Americans who shun all animal products in their diet. Omnivores should likewise seek out this sunny, second-story Chinatown venue for its vivid curries, soups, and noodle dishes.
FOOD TRUCK OF THE YEAR
Staff Meal. 2011 was the year Boston's food-truck scene blew up, and Staff Meal dished up the town's tastiest, most creative meals on wheels. Cannoli stuffed with chestnut/lardo puree? House-made cotechino and baked beans on brown bread? Please, sirs: we want some more.
Next week: a look at exciting and frugal new places to dine that will open in 2012!